Courtesy of Victoria Racing 01.11.12 - The eve of his biggest day in the sport, inspiring trainer Peter Gelagotis tells Steve Moran of his love of the sport of racing
It's been well documented that brothers Peter and Manny Gelagotis lost their father Mick, who was 73, two weeks ago. And they will be unashamedly overwhelmed and overcome with emotion should their horse Hvasstan win the AAMI Victoria Derby on Saturday.
However, and without diminishing the gravity of their loss in any way, victory would be a tribute not only to the memory of their father but also to Peter's training skills and perseverance. Manny said as much after the Derby barrier draw: 'It's sentimental for us but also a win would really complement Peter's training career.'
They're full of surprises, full of passion for the game, these Gelagotis boys. Peter is 'hands on' - training the horses the only way he knows how and with lessons from only one tutor, his father. 'I've never held a job outside the family business,' he explains.
Manny might be described as racing manager, investor and client liaison officer. Peter doesn't bet....well hardly ever. Manny does.
Manny's successful football (round ball, that is) career, which included playing in the National Soccer League, is well known. Not so well known is that he might have been an AFL player according to Peter who played both codes himself.
'Manny was drafted as a 16 year-old by Footscray after he was awarded best player in a Herald Shield final but mum and dad wouldn't let him go. He was a good footballer (AFL) and much better than me at both codes,' Peter said.
While Manny was pursuing his soccer career, Peter was working in the family's food businesses and dabbling with the few horses his father trained before eventually assuming that role full time.
'We landed on our feet with the first horse we bred, Lesvos Ruler. He won 13 races and around $190,000 which was a fair bit of money 20 years ago. He was hot-headed and a difficult horse to train and handling him taught me a lot,' Peter said.
Lesvos Ruler was a city winner on the flat and over the jumps. The former came when officially prepared by father Mick and the latter with P. Gelagotis assigned as trainer. Lesvos Ruler went on to run fourth in the Grand National and second in the Flemington Cup Day Hurdle in 2001.
'I loved it (racing) from the word go,' Peter said, 'I love the sport and I do call it a sport. It's sport, it's entertainment and it's a lifestyle which caters for so many different people and they're all seduced by it. It doesn't discriminate between the rich and the poor. It's a magic sport which is always throwing up a good story.
'What a story a horse like Alcopop with the trainer (Jake Stephens) nobody had heard of. He burst on the scene, then disappeared but he's got him back again and now he's run second to Ocean Park and Dunaden at his past two runs. Second in the Caulfield Cup. You feel for the bloke....he deserves to win a big race Alcopop and I hope he does.
'Maybe it is the uncertainty that gets you in. It's crazy really because there are no guarantees in this game. You buy a thousand chickens for X amount, cook them, sell them and you make X plus. You could buy a hundred horses and finish up with zero but there's always that hope and I'm fascinated by it,' he said.
This enthusiasm, and trust me Peter could talk for hours on the subject, probably comes from his father. 'Dad loved it. It was one of his only passions and he loved to see us do well. When we had a winner he couldn't wait for us to get home, put on the video and talk us through it,' he said.
Alas he hasn't been there to 'talk through' the recent wins of Hvasstan, Mourinho and Nusadarah but has perhaps provided some inspiration as he did through his 73 years.
'He was an amazing man,' Peter says of his father, 'he was the typical migrant story. Arrived here from Greece with nothing and really made something of his life. The turnout at his funeral was amazing. I didn't realise the influence he'd had on so many people's lives, setting them up in their own businesses after they'd worked for him. Not to mention the opportunities he gave us but I can tell you he was a hard task master.'
That work ethic seems to have rubbed off. 'I'm a bit of a perfectionist. You've got to get things right and that comes from hard work and I don't like losing. When I used to play football I wouldn't sleep for three nights if we got beaten. Although I have to say that racing teaches you how to lose and my attitude's changed. It's about celebrating the wins and not lamenting the losses. When things are going well with horses you milk it for all you can,' he said.
There's been plenty of success for the Gelagotis team with horses such as Savquaw, Mourinho, Module, Big Col, Crying Storm, Lesvos Ruler, Floramour and Belgietto but nothing quite like a Victoria Derby. And while the Moe trainer will cope with defeat he's exuding confidence in the build-up.
'The horse is as well as he can be,' he says of Hvasstan, 'he can't work any better than he did on Tuesday morning. If that work's any indication, the others will have their hands full. He's the most consistent horse in the race of those based in Melbourne.
'You could argue there's been better runs or more promising runs in his recent races but he's won three of his past four and arguably should have won all four. There's been different scenarios in each of those races and he's been ridden differently which underlines his versatility.
'He's robust. He can handle a bit of push and shove. There's a bit of g and d there and mental toughness and he doesn't shirk the issue. Nothing fazes him,' he said.
As to whether he'll run out the 2500 metres, Gelagotis concedes that's an unknown but is confident he will. 'We're all on notice on that one and on pedigree you'd say no but I believe he will run the trip because he switches off in his races. It's an open race but I think he can get the job done,' Gelagotis said.
He's also pleased to have Glen Boss on board and happy not to be favourite for the race. 'There's nobody riding better at the moment than Bossy. He's the man for the big occasion and just loves this time of the year. As for us, I love the underdog tag, the battlers from the bush. Takes the pressure off,' he said.
Battlers from the bush may be a bit of a stretch but you know what he means. 'I do my best but I'll never be Peter Moody,' he says. The battler tag will be well and truly erased if Peter Gelagotis wins the Derby - the race which Amalfi won in 2001 to provide Moody with his first Group 1 winner. Moody has 34 now - Group 1 winners that is.
The AAMI Victoria Derby will be run at 3pm (AEST) on Saturday at Flemington